Singing for peace in Uganda

Widows in Uganda sing songs against cattle raiding. Credits: Patrick Nicholson/Caritas

Widows in Uganda sing songs against cattle raiding. Credits: Patrick Nicholson/Caritas

Karamoja is Uganda’s land of warrior nomads. Armed with automatic weapons from Congo and Sudan, young men engage in tit-for-tat cattle raids against rival clans. The scale of the raids can be huge with hundreds of fighters involved and several thousand cattle stolen in a single night. The death toll is high.

The government has tried to disarm the warriors. Its soldiers, tanks and armoured personnel carriers watch over key roads. They have brought the number of ambushes down (there was a 90 percent chance of not reaching your destination in 2006. Daytime carjacking is rare now). But they have failed to stop the raids.

Cattle raiding is a cultural issue, not a political one. Caritas supports activists who work at a parish level to try to change attitudes. Caritas has set up“peace groups”. They hold social and sporting events promoting peace and development.Widows and orphans who are members of the groups sing songs about shattered lives.

“We sing about stopping the raids,” said Magdalena Gila, a 21 year old who lost her husband in a raid. “We sing about the challenges we face after losing sons, husbands and fathers.We sing about joining peace groups and getting involved in development.”

Former warriors explain to their peers how their own lives have changed for the better after giving up raiding. “There is only one likely outcome if you carry on raiding. You die,” said John Longwee, a former warrior. “So we show how getting an education can open up new possibilities.”


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